Personal data has become the modern-day equivalent of gold, and companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and various others would love nothing more than to get their hands on your data. And the lengths they’ll go to get it? Let’s say there are no limits. From tracking your whereabouts 24/7 to spying on you, they’ll get your data. But what, exactly, does personal data include?
Someone’s personal data encompasses who they are. Personal data is data that can be used to identity and individual and their hobbies—in other words, data such as:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your hobbies and interests
- And your location
Because personal data is so profitable, it’s common for companies to abuse the data they collect for monetary gain. This abuse ranges from how they obtain the data to what they do with it—for example, selling data without the individual’s permission). Let’s go over a few ways companies do this.
How Companies Are Collecting Your Data (and What you Can Do About It)
Some companies prefer a laid-back approach to collect customer data. An example of this would be collecting user data whenever they use a public network.
Public networks are notoriously insecure—no encryption, no required passwords, and rarely any security scans. This not only makes it easier for cybercriminals to steal data of unassuming users, but it makes it easy for the company in control of the public network to collect user data.
If you use public networks but don’t want to become the next victim of a hack or a round of data collection, protect your data with a VPN. A VPN encrypts your data and hides your presence on the network, making it near-impossible for any third-parties to take your data.
The idea of companies tracking your every move used to be nothing more than the plot of a dystopian novel. Nowadays, it’s reality. Security activists like Edward Snowden spent the 2000’s and early 2010’s exposing governments’ and companies’ love for tracking customers and citizens.
But why would companies track your every move? For some companies, tracking your location and where you visit can help them send personalized ads your way. An example of such a company would be Google, which often tracks your location and asks you to rate places you just visited (even if you have location services turned “off”).
Other companies track the websites you visit and how long you spend on them so they can get an idea of your browsing habits. The reason they need to know your browsing habits? So they can send you personalized ads and sell your data (which we’ll get to in a second).
How do you stop these companies from tracking your data? Well, there are a few routes you can take. For one, you can disable cookies on your browser. Turning off location services can also help keep these companies from getting an idea of your daily life.
Also, refrain from handing out too much information on social media. Certain companies may use your social media as a way to target you with ads.
Not all data companies collect is done through first-party means. Sometimes, companies look to third-parties in order to collect data about customers, both existing and potential. These third parties are known as data brokers.
Listing all known data brokers would be impossible, as there hundreds of companies that exist solely to sell data to other parties. IBM, Adobe, Neustar, Salesforce, Acxiom, most insurance companies, even government services: they’re all trading and selling data to each other.
While some laws in the United States have attempted to limit the selling of data by data brokers, they still hold a lot of power. And these data brokers have a lot on you, from insurance information to legal information to your whereabouts. But how do these data brokers collect your information?
It depends on the broker, but many of them do use browser trackers and cookies to file user data. In other words, if you want to limit the amount of data these companies can file, buy, and sell, install browser software that blocks trackers and cookies, such as Privacy Badger.
Other than that, try to limit the number of companies you deal with or create accounts with. You can’t help if companies buy your data from government agencies or credit bureaus, but you can keep companies like Adobe from getting their hands on your data.
The interconnectedness of technology and modern society means that it’s difficult to attain true privacy. There will always be a company looking to get their hands on your data or a company selling your data to the highest bidder.
Fortunately, there are ways to minimize the amount of data these brokers and companies have. With these few tips, you’ll be able to improve your privacy, even if just by a little bit.